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Beginning to Doubt That RPG Play Can Be Substantively "Character-Driven"

I was about to say something similar to this. In contrast to the chorus of "mechanics can't do it". You need mechanics to encourage it. The big carrot for players tends to be XP. So, you need to build an XP system that rewards going through a character arc of some sort. I think The Shadow of Yesterday was perhaps the precursor for this sort of thing. Most of the ones I've seen follow suit. Swap the XP system out of D&D for some sort of character arc system and voila, you'll have it. The only problem you'll have (from experience) is players not taking it seriously, and just "popping" their arc-conclusions. A really good system will work them into the rest of the mechanics as well. I think Fate is (by default) mediocre at this, but there are some additional rules hacks that let it work okay.
Agreed.

This is why you need (a) coherent incentive structures broadly, (b) multiple player-facing, mechanical pressure-points/levers that can materialize fiction (or not, given the product play) that integrates the premise of play (in relation to this thread; the dramatic arc of a changing character) and players' habitation of the mental/emotional space of their characters as outcomes propel play, and (c) well-rendered (meaning coherent and easy to understand), transparent GMing advice that synergizes with (a) and (b).
 

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JeffB

Legend
Having only read the OP-

"Books are Books. Games are Games."

That's an old, old magazine article in The Dragon from the 1970s. Still worth a read today.
 

I have found that character driven play is dependent upon several factors, one of which is the group of players, and a second is the format.

When everyone is sitting around a table for a couple of hours, the mini games of combat and acquisition seem to have a great deal of prominence, but when you change to a more narrative environment, the type of play can change as well.

Specifically, play by post (or email) is an environment that I've found to resonate with not only story driven players, but also with story driven campaigns.

If you are not getting something you want you want from playing RPGs around a table, then try playing them another way. You might be surprised how much you enjoy it.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Imagine you're a Game Master with players who are interested in whatever game, system, or adventure you're offering to run for them. Doesn't matter what it is. It could be the latest adventure module as written, or something completely homebrewed. Even if it is completely open-ended and sandbox-like, you have something in mind to lead the group and draw them into a storyline that you hope they will find compelling and inclusive for both the players and their characters.

For the sake of argument, let's assume you offer to run the latest D&D adventure product, and your players are excited for it. Everyone in the group is at least familiar with the system, and this is not your first time running games for them. But since you have a life and a full-time job outside of gaming, you tend to run modules mostly as written. Nobody really minds because you're a competent GM who is reliable, engaging, and always prepared even when the group inevitably goes "off the rails".

So let's say you propose to run Tomb of Annihilation (which is one that I am familiar with). You establish your parameters for the group during a session 0 and lay out the expectations. It will be set in Forgotten Realms, which is familiar to your group. You describe the setting where it is expected to take place (i.e. mostly in the jungles of Chult). And give a brief introduction of the themes, which include navigating the tropical jungles, fighting exhaustion from heat and dehydration, tomb raiding, and dealing with the death curse. Characters are expected to start at level 1 and get up to level 11-12 by the end.

Now here come your players with their character ideas...
  • Player 1 dives right in with one of his regular class/race builds optimized to beat the game. He couldn't tell you anything about his character except what is on his character sheet, though he could tell you exactly which options and level dips he will be taking during any step of the campaign. And his character's motive is to become the best <class> ever, which the player thinks is sufficient enough to appease the GM. It is not, but the GM knows how to pick his battles and moves on.
  • Player 2 wants to play the most exotic race imaginable (i.e. one that lives underwater, or usually reviled by others) because "humans are boring", and then proceeds to play his character like a boring human dressed up in some exotic costume. His background and motive may be suitable, but the GM must spend extra time and effort explaining this unusual creature and finding a narrative that is more interesting than the fact that the creature's existence in the campaign itself and why everyone else is okay with it. A more common and accepted race would require less explanation and shoehorning.
  • Player 3 rages against the idea of playing in another Forgotten Realms game and insists on having a character from another plane or world, complete with an over-developed background story that involves his preferred setting and can have NO CHANCE whatsoever of being worked into this campaign without porting over part of that world or setting with him.
  • Player 4 is all about roleplaying, which in her mind can only be accomplished through social interactions with accompanied skill checks, like Diplomacy and Bluff. She opts for choices that strengthen her abilities to influence anyone she can communicate with (i.e. control the actions and outcomes of others), thus removing any real GM agency or control. However, she quickly grows to loathe combat, for which many sessions will have in this campaign, as she is very ineffective and prone to fall unconscious whenever she becomes a target.
  • Finally, Player 5 is much like the OP of this thread. He cannot understand why the GM is incapable of providing a deep, emotional experience for his character even though he provided a fully detailed and interesting backstory, complete with motives, hooks, and potential tie-ins for the GM to use. The GM thinks he can incorporate some of those ideas with some tweaks and changing the details to use some of the things already in the campaign that the player doesn't know about, but the player feels that the GM is trying to rob him of his agency and creativity if he doesn't follow the player's ideas exactly.
If you're the Game Master here, where do you think the problem might be? Are you blaming yourself for not being more flexible and accommodating? Do you think maybe the players don't trust you because they feel more entitled to play exactly what they want, even ignoring the parameters and advice you are willing to provide at the start? Or are they satisfied to play in "your story", even though it's clearly not your story but a published module that you didn't create, as long as they can play "their story" in it?

In literature, as in any narrative, good stories are about characters; characters that belong in the story. If you want to create a narrative game experience that involves your characters, learn to collaborate with the people involved.

Only the GM has information and insight about what is to come, and they may not want to reveal and ruin some of the surprise. Give the seeds for your character and trust your GM to work it into the game in a way that you couldn't possibly foresee. The results may surprise and delight you.

Also, work with the other players to develop relationships between your characters beyond what skills and roles to take. They don't need to be friends or agree on certain topics, which makes it more interesting at times. But they don't need to blindly accept whoever shows up at the table, either. You want a deeper story for your hero? Look at your cast of co-stars. Remember: Monologues are for villains. ;)
 
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chaochou

Adventurer
As I’ve suggested before, try Dogs and try Blades.

They don’t produce GM-curated, Player Power Fantasies or insipid, ensemble cast wandering through thematic murk. The mechanics and GMing produce people that struggle, often fail, may/likely break, and maybe redeem/recover (though often not).
I tend to agree, although I don't think those games will automatically produce the richness of change and realisation the OP is alluding to... that takes good players.

I've been through a similar arc to the OP, and it took a long time to get my friends out of banale power fantasy land, with its cartoon combat and safe reliable magic, and back into the headspace of real people. And by a long time, I mean a number of games - maybe eight or nine.

If I was doing it again, I'd start with several one-shots - character change of the type in the OP can be realised in a single session very powerfully, and more safely from a player point of view. And I'd look for games which absolutely want that as a central tenet of play. Personally I'd go for Sorcerer (Adept Press) which is entirely about a character (or characters) each facing their own moment of crisis and how they change while dealing with it.

When the group is able to play Sorcerer well as a one-shot or over three or four sessions to create a satisfying set of interlinked character arcs - then I think Dogs and Blades are great suggestions.
 

pemerton

Legend
When everyone is sitting around a table for a couple of hours, the mini games of combat and acquisition seem to have a great deal of prominence
You seem to be assuming D&D here. Sit around the table playing (say) Cthulhu Dark or Prince Valiant or even Classic Traveller and, at least in my experience, this won't happen.
 

pemerton

Legend
Imagine you're a Game Master with players who are interested in whatever game, system, or adventure you're offering to run for them. Doesn't matter what it is. It could be the latest adventure module as written, or something completely homebrewed. Even if it is completely open-ended and sandbox-like, you have something in mind to lead the group and draw them into a storyline that you hope they will find compelling and inclusive for both the players and their characters.

For the sake of argument, let's assume you offer to run the latest D&D adventure product, and your players are excited for it.

<snip>

So let's say you propose to run Tomb of Annihilation (which is one that I am familiar with). You establish your parameters for the group during a session 0 and lay out the expectations. It will be set in Forgotten Realms, which is familiar to your group. You describe the setting where it is expected to take place (i.e. mostly in the jungles of Chult). And give a brief introduction of the themes, which include navigating the tropical jungles, fighting exhaustion from heat and dehydration, tomb raiding, and dealing with the death curse. Characters are expected to start at level 1 and get up to level 11-12 by the end.

Now here come your players with their character ideas...

<snip details>

Do you think maybe the players don't trust you because they feel more entitled to play exactly what they want, even ignoring the parameters and advice you are willing to provide at the start? Or are they satisfied to play in "your story", even though it's clearly not your story but a published module that you didn't create, as long as they can play "their story" in it?

<snip>

Only the GM has information and insight about what is to come, and they may not want to reveal and ruin some of the surprise.
What you describe here won't deliver the sort of play the OP is talking about.

There can't be dramatic character arcs if "the story" is already written (by the GM or the module author or whomever) and the GM already knows what is to come.

Doubly so if the GM has already decided what that story will be independently of the development by the players of their characters.

This essay by Ron Edwards is pretty relevant to what @innerdude is talking about.

Here's a salient quote:

How this works is pretty simple: the primary pre-play creative work lies in character creation, with setting elements being utilized or even invented strictly to generate conflicts and issues are exemplified by those characters. “Real” setting, or rather, the development of setting that’s genuinely external to the characters, is an emergent property of playing for a while, and it emerges simultaneously with the emergence of plot from the characters’ actions and experiences.​

This is related to my comment upthread that the notion of "the adventure" has to be dropped. In my personal experience this is more important than particular mechanical bells-and-whistles.

regular class/race builds optimized to beat the game

<snip>

choices that strengthen her abilities to influence anyone she can communicate with (i.e. control the actions and outcomes of others), thus removing any real GM agency or control.

<snip>

why the GM is incapable of providing a deep, emotional experience for his character even though he provided a fully detailed and interesting backstory, complete with motives, hooks, and potential tie-ins for the GM to use. The GM thinks he can incorporate some of those ideas with some tweaks and changing the details to use some of the things already in the campaign that the player doesn't know about, but the player feels that the GM is trying to rob him of his agency and creativity if he doesn't follow the player's ideas exactly
There seem to be many assumptions here that are at odds with the sort of play the OP is talking about.

Beating the game only makes sense for a certain sort of RPGing, involving a certain range of systems (D&D and T&T most prominently). I don't think those are what @innerdude has in mind.

And there also seem to be assumptions about "GM agency" - often also called GM force - which are pretty much orthogonal to what the OP is talking about. In RPGing, you don't get emotionally engaging character arcs by having the GM tell you what happens to your PC. The player needs to be able to impact the fiction. (Whether that is via social, combat or other mechanics seems a secondary matter.)
 
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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
What you describe here won't deliver the sort of play the OP is talking about.

There can't be dramatic character arcs if "the story" is already written (by the GM or the module author or whomever) and the GM already knows what is to come.

Doubly so if the GM has already decided what that story will be independently of the development by the players of their characters.
Yes, that is exactly right. My example was intended to illustrate the same dilemma that the OP described, but in a more detailed and all-too-common scenario with a popular system that doesn't normally support this kind of experience during play. In fact, it makes the same assumptions that you're pointing out - that everyone assumes the GM can't or won't engage with the players to incorporate their characters as the focus of a narrative because it may deviate from the written path. Likewise, players are unwilling to give up what they feel is their entitlement to have complete control over their characters instead of collaborating to create something complimentary and complete. System and mechanics don't matter. It can be done. I do it all the time. ;)
 

Wulffolk

Explorer
The old White Wolf games had some excellent essays on role-playing and story-telling included in the core books. Ars Magica and The World of Darkness games really evolved my perspective on RPGs.

On some levels their influence ruined my ability to enjoy D&D because I was constantly seeking in D&D the depth of role-playing that I experienced in the various StoryTeller game systems.

One of the major differences I have noticed through the years is the trend of making maps and miniatures such a huge part of a game. I think this tends to focus the game more on combat and tactics. I almost always had much deeper role-playing experiences in the old days of D&D when we played in the "Theatre of the Mind" rather than on a hex map or grid. This is one of the advantages of the StoryTeller games, they are usually played in the "Theatre of the Mind" and thus require more imagination.
 
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aramis erak

Adventurer
Now here come your players with their character ideas...
  • Finally, Player 5 is much like the OP of this thread. He cannot understand why the GM is incapable of providing a deep, emotional experience for his character even though he provided a fully detailed and interesting backstory, complete with motives, hooks, and potential tie-ins for the GM to use. The GM thinks he can incorporate some of those ideas with some tweaks and changing the details to use some of the things already in the campaign that the player doesn't know about, but the player feels that the GM is trying to rob him of his agency and creativity if he doesn't follow the player's ideas exactly.
Player 5 is problem enough that I'd show them the door. The intransigence makes them a total non-team player.

In a system like Spirit of the Century (FATE), with group character gen, and other players having input into your character, such a player simply cannot exert their control demand, because they're already had to forfeit it. Players like #5 will whinge through CGen, and then through play.

I don't see that intransigence in the OP's point of view, but there's not enough to dismiss intransigence, either. So I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will say that a deep (especially multi-page typed) backstory is an impediment to character driven narrative, not a benefit. The more, the harder to make use of, because what's important isn't clear. If you have a 4 party group, and all four have 2 pages typed, that's 8 pages of potentially incompatible that the GM has to integrate.

Meanwhile, if each provides 3-4 good strong bullet points of one to two lines each, those are much easier to parse, and much less likely to be "run over" by each other and the GM.

I've found often enough that the best solution for frustrated players looking for character driven is to play rules-less play-by-post. I've found the players in such tend to respect each others backstories, and engage with them, but it's a very different activity from FTF tabletop.

It's doable in FTF... but it's work that the whole party must agree to do, too.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Player 5 is problem enough that I'd show them the door. The intransigence makes them a total non-team player.

In a system like Spirit of the Century (FATE), with group character gen, and other players having input into your character, such a player simply cannot exert their control demand, because they're already had to forfeit it. Players like #5 will whinge through CGen, and then through play.

I don't see that intransigence in the OP's point of view, but there's not enough to dismiss intransigence, either. So I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I will say that a deep (especially multi-page typed) backstory is an impediment to character driven narrative, not a benefit. The more, the harder to make use of, because what's important isn't clear. If you have a 4 party group, and all four have 2 pages typed, that's 8 pages of potentially incompatible that the GM has to integrate.

Meanwhile, if each provides 3-4 good strong bullet points of one to two lines each, those are much easier to parse, and much less likely to be "run over" by each other and the GM.

I've found often enough that the best solution for frustrated players looking for character driven is to play rules-less play-by-post. I've found the players in such tend to respect each others backstories, and engage with them, but it's a very different activity from FTF tabletop.

It's doable in FTF... but it's work that the whole party must agree to do, too.
I think that your definition of "deep" and mine are different. If I get ~1500 words of decently-written backstory from each of 6 players, I can incorporate that, so long as they all realize they're at the beginnings of their stories. Left to my own devices, I write backstories of between 1000 and 1500 words, including whatever mechanics are implicated.

That doesn't mean there's no such thing as "too much backstory," just that our thresholds are different. Probably it's a good idea to ask your GM how much he wants/
 

I'm not 100% sure that I understand what the OP is talking about. My role-playing experiences usually have the sorts of character-driven play that @Celebrim described in some detail, which I'm grateful for. I think @innerdude might be getting at something a bit different, but I'm not sure how to place it.

The primary group I play with does a lot of the "method acting style" and sometimes that ends up with characters developing and evolving internally in ways that make sense in the ongoing campaign. I am usually intentional in choosing which part of my personality to into a character I play, so that I will have something to strongly relate with and work with (or even work through in a therapeutic manner).

For example, in a very character-driven (by Celebrim's definition) 3.5e Ravenloft campaign, my character represented my "scared child" personality component. Over the course of the campaign, as he faced terrible Ravenlofty things and interacted with a group of other well-roleplayed characters, he was forced to address his "inner demons" (mechanically reflected by his class, a variant Wilder whose powers were occasionally Ravenloft-corrupted, but thematically addressed through dream sequences and just normal choices during play). He experienced/expressed new aspects of his fears and gradual sense of empowerment through the psionic powers I decided to have him acquire as he leveled up. He also met, developed a relationship with, and eventually married a complex NPC (who, now that I think about it, might easily be described as having a transformative character arc as described in the OP). By the end of the campaign he had overcome/processed much of his fear. Instead of being an Innocent (Ravenloft jargon) farm boy cursed with terrifying powers, somewhat reluctantly traveling around with this motley crew to help out his cousin in the fight against evil, he was a competent, if humble, hero aware of and in reasonable control of those abilities within himself (mechanically reflected by taking a level of Psion near the end of the campaign to pick up a few low-level powers that he didn't have to worry about random downsides using), and willing to step up and do what needed to be done because it was the right thing, not just out of filial piety. Even though his personality is quite a bit different than my own, I was able to take the couple of elements I related to and "get into his head", so that I could experience his journey as if I were him.

I think this does differ from what I'd experience with a book or movie.

Despite my connection with the character, I couldn't be as moved by him, because I was the mover of him.

I think this is huge, and if no one has ever defined this principle before, I'm going to do it right now:

The author cannot also be the audience

If you write a story (say a book or short story), you will never get the same emotional effect as someone reading it might. You know what's going to happen. You have control over it. You can have your villain massacre puppies and it isn't going to affect you the same way as it will the reader. More realistically, when you choose an ending out of a few possibilities, you might get a great sense of satisfaction out of making it work out according to your vision of how it should be, or feel a sense of dissatisfaction if it could've been better, but you will never feel the rage and anguish of those who are pissed off at you for "ending the story wrong".(1) They got invested(2) with the characters and wanted a certain ending, and were devastated when that's not what happened. You might be sorry they felt that way, but you had a creative vision and think you did a really good job with it. While I remember those authorial betrayals (lol) better, the experience is similar with stories when you really like the ending on an emotional level. For instance, I loved the final (2-part) episode of Star Trek: Voyager (other than the lack of post resolution denouement right at the end) because of Janeway's love for her friends and her conviction driving her to (in contrast with her normal choices) completely disregard all "the rules" and literally go back in time to fix all the bad stuff that happened over the past (13?) or so years. There was just this exultant sense of rightness to what she did. A strange, rebellious cosmic justice. And it didn't negate everything that had happened before, because all of the losses over the series were still there--just the losses in the many years between that episode and the previous one were resolved. I got that emotional connection you are talking about. If I had been the author I don't believe that would have been possible.

As far as the reason for this phenomenon, I'm not sure, but I suspect it has to do with there being interpersonal interaction when you are the audience consuming a story composed by someone else, whereas when you yourself are the author it is a solo experience that isn't as emotionally rich in that way as the interpersonal one. The fact is, as much as you might be creatively invested, even to the extent of strong emotion involving that creativity, as much as you might have a strong sense of delight, or disappointment with your work, you can't have the sort of visceral emotional investment that the consumer has regarding the fate that you created for those characters.

So, although I'm still not 100% sure I've identified exactly what phenomenon @innerdude is referring to (and in this type of conversation, I think exact identification is essential), based on the medium of role-playing, I would be surprised if that principle isn't at play here. As long as you are playing (ie, authoring) the character, you can't have the same experience as you could have as the audience of the performance.

Perhaps a way you could get something like that is through the character-driven development of your fellow PCs.

I also think there are experiences you can get through playing a character that you can't get as well through either authoring a story or being a consuming audience. The one I brought up is the therapeutic element of self-exploration. Your ability to guide that interaction dynamically through your character's choices when presented with an environment (by the GM/setting) makes it more effective than authoring a story in the traditional way, or than identifying with the experiences an author chose for some other character as you read/watch their story.

I get the idea that this therapeutic benefit is simply one manifestation of a larger beneficial effect (probably also themed around self-exploration) at work here--one in which role-playing is the best at providing--but I haven't really delved into exactly what that would be. Of course, now that's it's occurred to me I'm not going to be satisfied until I understand it.

Hope that was helpful!


(1) You might feel the rage and anguish of not being able to end the dang story, or not having it appreciated, etc, but that is all outside the story and different than audience investment.
(2) Apparently research indicates that binge watching/reading heightens this emotional investment
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
I think that your definition of "deep" and mine are different. If I get ~1500 words of decently-written backstory from each of 6 players, I can incorporate that, so long as they all realize they're at the beginnings of their stories. Left to my own devices, I write backstories of between 1000 and 1500 words, including whatever mechanics are implicated.

That doesn't mean there's no such thing as "too much backstory," just that our thresholds are different. Probably it's a good idea to ask your GM how much he wants/
In my experience, unless all the players work together to craft them at 1500 words each, there will be incompatibilities. Some players won't mind reconciliation between them, others will. I don't want the later

I've found that few players are going to play more than about 150 words worth of that 1500... and I'd rather have the bullet points than the prose. Mileage may vary, But the basic point is, there is such a thing as too much, and the more one writes, the more one needs to coordinate with the other players for it to neither conflict nor be irrelevant.
 

pemerton

Legend
A lot of games that might be thought of as involving and promoting "character-driven" RPGing - eg, as mentioned in this thread, DitV, Sorcerer, BitD, Burning Wheel - are a direct reaction against a certain sort of approach to Storyteller and similar RPGs.

For instance, they tend to emphasise GM and mechanical transparency, resolution frameworks that can be initiated by players and are binding on GMs, and an absence of pre-written "story" or "metaplot".

Because of @innerdude's emphasis in the OP on mechanics that produce, via play, character arcs, I assume that he (?) is thinking more about those sorts of systems than ones in which mechanics take a back-seat to GM decision-making and the players' principal job is to imbue their performances with authenticity.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
I'm not sure if gameplay mechanics are what you need to get to a character-driven experience. I do think that things such as handing out rewards for character development and good roleplaying, can certainly help promote a character driven experience. But I think at the heart of it all are not the mechanics, but the DM and the players themselves as the guiding force of it all.

I think it is up to the DM to come up with a plot and npc's that the players can get emotionally invested in. But it is also up to the players to make that connection, and interact with the fiction. It is then up to the DM to allow the players to further explore these narrative beats, and to respond to their actions in a way that feels meaningful.

Sometimes the DM may need to force a plot development in order to keep the players engaged. An important npc may need to die, in order for the plot to progress in an exciting way. But just as important is that the DM is able to tie the various sub plots and the players' choices together into a cohesive whole.

When all of these pieces come together, that is when you get a fantastic story that is a combination between the plot beats as written by the DM, and the choices of the players. I don't think there is a special trick, or a specific set of rules that will magically make all that happen. Some groups may never get up to that point.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Because of @innerdude's emphasis in the OP on mechanics that produce, via play, character arcs, I assume that he (?) is thinking more about those sorts of systems than ones in which mechanics take a back-seat to GM decision-making and the players' principal job is to imbue their performances with authenticity.
Yes, but I don't believe he (we) should limit ourselves by thinking that the mechanics of the game should inhibit our ability and imagination. A game like D&D, which is hard coded for combat and tactics, might not be the best system for deep, immersive, character-driven story telling. But that doesn't stop us from playing that way if we so choose. Like them or not, Critical Role has proven that the system is not a barrier.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Yes, but I don't believe he (we) should limit ourselves by thinking that the mechanics of the game should inhibit our ability and imagination. A game like D&D, which is hard coded for combat and tactics, might not be the best system for deep, immersive, character-driven story telling. But that doesn't stop us from playing that way if we so choose. Like them or not, Critical Role has proven that the system is not a barrier.
I'd go further than "system is not a barrier" here. Not only will some systems work better for some players (occasinally in surprising combinations), some players will deeply engage with their characters in any system, using whatever handles they can find in whatever system they're playing.
 

A lot of games that might be thought of as involving and promoting "character-driven" RPGing - eg, as mentioned in this thread, DitV, Sorcerer, BitD, Burning Wheel - are a direct reaction against a certain sort of approach to Storyteller and similar RPGs.

For instance, they tend to emphasise GM and mechanical transparency, resolution frameworks that can be initiated by players and are binding on GMs, and an absence of pre-written "story" or "metaplot".

Because of @innerdude's emphasis in the OP on mechanics that produce, via play, character arcs, I assume that he (?) is thinking more about those sorts of systems than ones in which mechanics take a back-seat to GM decision-making and the players' principal job is to imbue their performances with authenticity.
One of the things that I notice, as far as my own experiences go, is that the more a system hard-codes mechanical systems for encouraging, rewarding, and integrating that sort if thing, the less I can actually emotionally connect to it.

I don't know where exactly @innerdude is coming from, but to get strong experiences of emotional connection with a character I need to have as strongly first person, primarily actor stance style as possible. When a system gamifies the experience, that creates a level of abstraction (sometimes more than one) that is an emotional barrier between me and the character. Sure, it might assist in "writing a story" (as much as that is possible in this format), but it gets in the way of personal investment with the character. It's substantially worse in that regard than a detailed simulation -heavy character sheet with a big list of mechanical elements and game jargon.
 

lordabdul

Explorer
When a system gamifies the experience, that creates a level of abstraction (sometimes more than one) that is an emotional barrier between me and the character.
Very good point, yeah. And of course it depends on each player -- I know that some of my players for instance love systems with advantages/disadvantages (like GURPS or FATE and such), because they use these traits and rolls as a support for their roleplay, but I know that some of my other players see it totally the opposite way, as something that constrains and formalizes their roleplaying performance in a "crude" way, and that they feel gets in the way... so I use other systems with them.

But that has to do with session-by-session roleplay though. The OP was talking about character arcs over the course of multiple adventures. In many ways, systems that formalize a character's traits ("who they are", as opposed to just "what they can do") actually help with character arcs because they almost always include mechanics for adding/removing traits during play (like "buying off" your drug addiction or kleptomania or selfishness or whatever), so they effectively promote character arcs, even if they do so in a way that some players will consider as clunky or as an "emotional barrier"... in which case, those players tend to play with systems that don't do that, and therefore really only have the GM and other people at their table to rely on to be able to engage in a character-changing narrative arc, so you either have the right group or you don't.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
A game like D&D, which is hard coded for combat and tactics, might not be the best system for deep, immersive, character-driven story telling. But that doesn't stop us from playing that way if we so choose. Like them or not, Critical Role has proven that the system is not a barrier.
Um... no. Or, not quite.

Do remember that Critical Role is made up of professional actors - people who have specific talent, extensive training and experience in emoting and acting in distracting situations. Saying, "Well, it can be done on Critical Role, so it can be done by anyone," simply is not true, and does a disservice to folks who are trying, but not succeeding, by blaming them for not being good enough.

Imagine that that you are playing, and at random moments, a 7 year old kid in the room blats out horrendous noise from a trumpet. It's probably really distracting. It probably puts you off your game, brings you out of the moment. That's what an ill-fitting ruleset, or one ill-designed for this purpose, can do to a player - be a horrible distraction.
 

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